Weddings are a fun and joyous occasion not only for the bride and groom but also for their family and friends. To add an extra zing to all the fun and merriment, in India we have various pre-wedding rituals and celebrations. These rituals differ from community to community due to the diversity of culture. In this post, I will be sharing with you one such pre-wedding ritual from the Indian Catholic community called the Roce Ceremony.
Within the Catholic community itself, we have various ethnoreligious sects. The roce ceremony is a pre-wedding ritual associated with the Manglorean and the Goan Catholic communities. The Mangalorean Catholics belong to Karnataka and the Goan Catholics belong to Goa. The mother tongue of both these communities is Konkani, however, their dialect differs. Roce ceremony is one of the most important pre-wedding rituals in the Mangalorean and Goan Catholic communities.
What is the Roce Ceremony?
The literal translation of the word Roce (also spelled as Ros) is juice. The freshly squeezed coconut milk is an integral part of the roce ceremony. This ceremony is equivalent to the Haldi Ceremony in the Hindu community. The ceremony is held a day or two prior to the wedding day.
The ceremony includes anointing with coconut oil and the application of pure coconut milk followed by a ritual hot water bath. The ceremony is held separately at the bride’s and groom’s residences.
Significance of the Roce Ceremony
Roce ceremony symbolizes the last day of bachelorhood and spinsterhood for the bride and groom. It also signifies a shift or change from single life to married life. The ceremony also symbolizes washing away the sins and purifying the soul for marriage. The hot water bath, which follows the anointing, is also a vital part of the ceremony.
When is the Roce Ceremony held?
In traditional times, the ceremony was held the evening prior to the wedding day. However, keeping with the changing times, these days the ceremony is held at the convenience of the family and friends. The ceremony can be held a week prior to the wedding or a few days prior in the afternoon or evening. In certain situations, the ceremony can be held on the wedding day morning itself, hours before the nuptials.
Where is the Ceremony held?
Roce ceremony is usually held at the respective bride and groom’s house. In cities, the ceremony is held on the building terrace, and in villages in the courtyard or verandah. Certain families also choose to have the ceremony in a banquet hall or ground to accommodate more guests.
The ceremony for the couples is held separately. However, these days, many couples prefer to have the ceremony together at the same venue. Many couples and families have common friends and guests. Having a joint ceremony helps to cut down costs. Though it may take a lot of convincing with old school parents, it surely seems like a good option in the current times.
Why is Coconut used in the Roce Ceremony?
Goa and Karnataka lie on the coastline of the country. As a result, there is an abundance of coconut trees here. Since ages, coconut is an integral part of the lives of all those who live along the coastline. From curries to desserts, it is a part of various local cuisine delicacies. Coconut also became a significant part of various traditional celebrations held within communities living across the coastline, including the Catholic Community.
Roce symbolizes purity, just like the white coconut milk. Coconut comes from nature and its use in the pre-wedding ceremony shows our dependence on our Creator and Mother Nature. Similarly, in Biblical times, oil was used to anoint the kings and leaders to bless them. Moreover, we are also well aware that oil massage for babies has many benefits. Therefore, oil is symbolically applied to the bride and groom as a sign of blessing and strengthening the marriage.
How is the Roce made?
The process of extracting coconut milk is quite simple. Only an odd number of coconuts are used depending on how much roce is required. This further depends on the number of guests expected at the function.
The internal white portion or meat of the coconut also commonly known as the coconut kernel is grated into finer pieces. These grated pieces are then soaked for some time in a little hot water to release the milk or juice from the kernel. The juice is then squeezed out from the kernels using a muslin cloth. Most of the time, coconut milk is extracted while the ceremony is on.
The scraping of the coconuts is usually done by the elder sisters, sister-in-law, aunts, etc. The important part is that the coconut milk for the roce should be squeezed by hand only. However, if there is a larger quantity of roce required, a mixer can be used.
The oil is usually store-bought in many families. However, there are still a few households that use homemade coconut oil.
Traditional Roce Ceremony Setup
In India, wedding preparations are not just limited to the family. The neighbors and relatives also lend a helping hand to the family of the bride or groom. And the same is for the roce ceremony too. Usually, the neighbors help in cleaning and decorating the house, setting up the MATTOV, and preparing the meal.
A MATTOV is a pandal erected in the yard of the house, out of materials such as areca nut palms, dried woven coconut palm leaves, and decorated with green ‘Inda Talle’ – leaves of another type of palm.
This is very common in Mangalore and Goa where usually the ceremony is held on the house veranda or backyard. However, in the cities, people usually call up or hire decorators and caterers for the roce ceremony events and the relatives and guests directly attend the main event.
The Morning of the Roce Ceremony
With the ceremony of ’roce’, the wedding celebration really begins. On the day of the ceremony, the family members offer a morning mass (prayer service in the Catholic Church) to remember and pay respect to the deceased members of the family and ask for their blessings over the ceremony and bride and groom.
The bride and groom, family members, close relatives, and neighbors attend the mass. After the mass, the preparations begin in full swing. Before the Roce ceremony begins, Goans have a special bangle-wearing ceremony for girls called ‘chuddo’, which consists of a set of fifteen bangles of green, brown, and yellow colors on each wrist. In Mangaloreans, the chuddo is put on during the wedding reception part while dressing the bride in the “Sado (Red Saree)”.
Meaning of Vojem
A fun part of the ceremony is something called ‘Vojem’. ‘Vojem’ means burden. Weddings are an expensive affair. In olden times, it would become difficult for the families of the bride and groom to bear all the expenses of the wedding as well as the roce ceremony. Hence, to lend them a helping hand, the close family members would willingly contribute to the necessary materials required for the preparation of the feast meals.
Vojem Offerings Roce Ceremony
Just before ‘Roce’, the immediate maternal and paternal relatives of the bride or groom would ceremoniously (in a procession accompanied by a brass band,) bring to the ‘Mattov’ their contribution and offerings called ‘Vojem’ (their share of the burden). This usually includes meat (live pigs and goats), fruits, grains, and vegetables required for the festivities.
Today, many families try to bear all the expenses themselves and avoid taking any financial help from their relatives unless it is extremely necessary. However, to keep this meaningful tradition alive, there is a little extra fun and zing added to it. These days, the Vojem usually includes jokes, leg-pulling, fancy dress, mimicry, fun dances, etc.
Welcoming the guests
The head of the family, traditionally dressed in a ‘Toddop’ (dhoti), ‘Kutaon (Kurta) and ‘Shelo’ (Shawl), welcomes the guests. The main hosts of the ceremony, usually the parents, are called Yezman (male host or the father) and “Yezmani” (female host or the mother). They welcome the guests with areca-nut, betel leaves, etc., and a pot of water at the main entrance of the ‘mattov’ (Pendal).
The hosts greet the guests by saying ‘paan-pod udak ailem’ (‘receive this plate of areca-nut, betel leaves, and a pot of water’). The guests acknowledge the same by responding, ‘Dev Borem Korum, yezmanya” (May God bless you).
The symbolic cutting of the kuvalo (ash/wax gourd) by the uncles and extraction of coconut milk by the women also take place during this time.
Traditional Outfits For The Bride And Groom For The Roce Ceremony
The bride and groom get dressed in traditional outfits for the ceremony. Traditionally, the brides used to wear a skirt and blouse ( called ‘Khirgi bhaju’). The skirts are usually made from their mother’s Wedding Saree. However, if that’s not available, it can be stitched with any other fabric.
Khirgi bhaju roce ceremony
Some brides prefer draping a saree or wearing other traditional outfits like lehenga or churidar. Flowers play a vital role in any traditional celebration. Jasmine flowers are used to adorn the bride’s hair. The leftover flowers are also distributed among other women present for the ceremony.
The traditional outfit for the groom (voreth or novro) is a loincloth called ‘pudvem’ or a half pant or a ‘lungi’. Sometimes, the upper body may or may not be covered with a half-sleeved singlet. However, these days many grooms prefer wearing Sherwani’s.
In traditional houses, usually, the groom (at his residence) can be seen moving in the courtyard, but the bride usually remains inside her house and will be asked to come out and be seated for the roce ceremony only when it actually begins. However, with changing times, this is not followed by most families now.
These days, the entourage prefers to wear some theme-based outfits to make the ceremony more fun. The most common dress codes for roce ceremony are the Hawaiian, Floral or Print Wear, complete Traditional Wear, Movie Based or Favourite Colour based.
The ceremony begins with a short prayer service. This prayer service differs from household to household as there is no fixed structure on how it needs to be done. Usually, if a priest or a religious person is present at the ceremony, they lead the prayer service.
Prayer priest roce ceremony
In traditional households, the ceremony may include a complete recitation of the rosary and reflection on the Bible reading along with the above things. After the prayer service, the bride/groom receives blessings from the elders of the house.
The Roce Plates
After the prayer service, the bride or groom changes into some casual outfits and sits for the ceremony. They usually wear comfortable clothes like a tank top/t-shirt and shorts for the roce ceremony. The bridesmaids or best men sit on either side of the bride or groom.
The hostess of the house and the aunts or sisters of the bride or groom bring in the oil and coconut milk. The oil is brought in a small bowl whereas the coconut milk is brought in round plates. These roce plates are also in odd numbers.
Roce ceremony plates
The women place the bowl and plate on the table before the groom or bride. The mother usually carries the oil bowl. The elder sister-in-law, godmother, aunts, etc. are given the honor of carrying the roce plates by the hostess. Unfortunately, keeping up with the ancestral traditions, widows and spinsters are not given this honor.
The main ceremony begins.
The Roce Application
The family members, beginning with the parents and grandparents first apply the oil and roce on the bride or groom. Usually, the mother is the first to apply the roce.
– She dabs her thumb in the oil and makes a sign of the cross on the forehead of the groom/bride.
– She takes a spoonful of oil and pours the oil in each of the ears. This is so that the bride and groom have a clear ear to listen to each other and understand each other.
- She pours 5 drops of oil on the brides or grooms head and rubs oil into his/her hair.
- She then takes coconut milk and applies it to the bride or the groom. She does this by cupping her hands, scooping roce from the bowl and, pouring it on the grooms/brides head. She then applies more roce on her/his face, hands, and legs.
This is followed by the father, grandparents, siblings, close relatives, and then guests. In earlier days only the women applied roce to the bride/groom. The roce is not applied to the bridesmaids or the best men.
The best part of the roce application is something called the “Abhisheka”. Once everyone is done applying the roce on the bride or groom, the bridesmaids or best men, together, pour the leftover roce on the bride or groom.
Roce ceremony groom
As a joke, many youngsters prefer breaking eggs, pouring beers, applying shaving cream or toothpaste, curds, ketchup, etc on the bride or groom along with the roce. However, this is frowned upon as it is considered wrong.
While this is going on, the women usually sing a traditional song called ‘Voviyo’. ‘VOVIYOS’ are traditional songs that include limericks and messages. This wedding song has been passed down from generation to generation. The song holds deep sentimental value and meaning in the Roce Ceremony.
It is usually an elderly lady who knows the voviyos and the sequence of them. She leads the song while the rest of the women sing ‘vove’ and then repeat the last verse. In villages, young girls train themselves to lead in singing the song. However, what I have noticed is this tradition is slowly dying. Rather than singing it themselves, these days many choose to play the ready music mp3’s.
I have come across a variety of lyrics. The initial stanza of the song invokes the blessings of the Almighty on the ceremony and on the soon-to-be-married ones. The next stanza compares the ceremony set up, décor, coconut milk to the lives of the bride and groom. This is followed by stanza’s about the bride’s or groom’s relationship and connection with their parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, and other loved ones.
In Goan Roce Ceremonies, we have Zoti which is similar to Voviyos. Zoti is also sung during the roce ceremony. However, these days, there are special groups hired to sing the Zoti during the ceremony.
The ‘Voviyo’ reminds the bride/groom of the love and sacrifices of her/his parents, gives them marriage advice, and also indulges in some good-humored teasing. The important thing is that this song helps the bride and groom to reflect on the time they have spent with their family. Many brides tear up while reminiscing the memories.
You will find the lyrics to the Voviyos anywhere on the internet.
The Ritual Hot Water Bath
Soon after the completion of the roce ceremony, the groom or bride is taken by the hand and led to the bathroom. One mug of Hot water is poured on the groom’s or bride’s head by the parents, grandparents, and siblings each for traditional purposes. Certain voviyos are also sung during this time.
While the bride or groom is having their bath and getting ready, there is some entertainment program organized for the guests. This usually includes performances, games, or even a jam session.
The Roce Ceremony Feast Meal
Roce ceremony is usually followed by lunch or dinner which is also called “Rosache Jevon” (Jevon means lunch/dinner). While the bride or groom is bathing, the caterers get the meal ready to be served. During ancient times in villages, the food would be prepared at home itself with the help of neighbors and close relatives.
The women of the house would prepare Sāmbhar powder in a “DAATNE” (a traditional Indian machine used to powder grains) and “KARPO”. Karpo is a mixture of grated coconut and onions. Onions and grated coconut are fried, not so finely ground, and dried. This would be later used for fish curry and vegetables. The food then was simple: Rice, fish curry cooked with coconut milk, vegetable, and most important of all Warn (Payasam).
These days, it is not convenient for many to prepare a complete meal at home. Hence, caterers are hired for this purpose. There is also a huge variety of dishes that we get to see these days. The dinner, if its traditional, will be rice, bottle gourd vegetable with mutton or with dried baby shrimp called ‘galmbo’ and a variety of dry vegetable dishes like ‘tendlim’(girkins) with cashew nuts, chonno sukho (gram), or Khelen sukhen (banana), and the sweet, ‘vorn’ will be served after the dinner. In addition to this, pulov, chicken, pork, or mutton is also included in the meal, depending on the choices of the host.
In villages, all the guests would sit together in a straight line. The meal would be served to them on a banana leaf. However, with changing times, we have the meal served in a buffet system. Once the bride or groom and the entourage have returned, a short grace before the meal is prayed and then the lunch or dinner is served.
The Concluding of The Roce Ceremony
After the meal, there is usually a custom of blessing the wedding saree and jewelry for the bride at the groom’s residence. For this, all the married women of the family and even the guests, bless the saado and the jewelry that will be offered to the bride on the wedding day.
The roce ceremony is concluded with everyone glorifying the Almighty by singing a Latin song Laudate Dominum.
With this, the main roce ceremony comes to an end. There is dance and music played by the DJ after the ceremony for everyone to have a jolly good time.
According to the traditions, the bride and the groom are not allowed to sit together or even meet each other after the roce ceremony. As per ancient sayings, it is considered bad luck. They are supposed to meet only at the nuptials. They are not even allowed to leave their house. Superstitiously, this is to protect them from evil spirits. Logically, this is done to protect them from any unfortunate accident.
However, these days, many young couples meet each other after their roce ceremony to complete some last-minute wedding preparations.
The roce ceremony is a wonderful and meaningful pre-wedding ritual in the Catholic community. With changing times, the ceremony has gone through many changes. However, I hope we do not bring in too many changes and make the ceremony lose its real meaning. I hope as the years pass on, the future generations keep this tradition alive and follow it.